Recording of the Week,
Presto Personal Favourites from 2013
We feel very lucky at Presto that we get to listen to so many amazing recordings; this year especially has been a fantastic one for new releases, and unfortunately there are just too many discs for us to be able to feature in our weekly newsletter.
As this is a somewhat lean time of year for new releases, therefore, we thought that this week we would do something slightly different, and get each of our editorial staff to choose a disc from the past year that we really loved, but which we simply didn't have the space to write about at the time of release.
So, here are some overlooked gems that you may have missed this year; we hope you'll want to explore them and maybe make a new discovery or two! Finally, it only remains for us to wish you a Merry Christmas from everyone at Presto!
with Danjulo Ishizaka (cello) Pavel Haas Quartet
As we’ve come to expect from the Pavel Haas Quartet, we’re treated here to performances of not only great refinement and polish, but also real emotional depth. For their fifth disc with Supraphon they’ve chosen two of the cornerstones of the whole chamber music repertoire.
Schubert’s D minor String Quartet (nicknamed Death and the Maiden), with its haunting second movement based on the composer’s song of the same name, ripples with nervous energy, as fiery and explosive fortissimos are contrasted with tender and delicate quieter passages. A combination of subtle elasticity of tempo whilst never slowing too much gives this performance great structural coherency from beginning to end.
The great C major String Quintet, with one of the most sublime slow movements in all music, doesn’t disappoint either. Ishizaka’s second cello fits perfectly into the quartet’s lush and rounded sound, and phrasing, articulation and dynamic contrasts are all carefully thought out and realised.
Available Format: 2 CDs
Dietsch: Le Vaisseau Fantôme
I’ll admit that I was suffering from mild Wagner fatigue by the autumn, so Marc Minkowski’s double-Dutchman (pairing Wagner’s original one-act version of Der fliegende Holländer with Pierre-Louis Dietsch’s treatment of the same story) slipped under my radar until quite recently.
The Dietsch is great fun, and worlds away from Wagner: I’d have guessed Meyerbeer, Rossini in Guillaume Tell mode or possibly even early French Verdi from a blind tasting. Supremely tuneful and harmonically conservative, it’s full of set pieces including rollicking choruses, several ecstatic love-duets and showpiece arias packed with the sort of vocal gymnastics which Wagner deplored. Sally Matthews steals the show in the florid but highly dramatic role of Minna (Senta).
The Wagner’s a revelation too: the period sonorities of Minkowski’s Louvre forces underline just how ‘early’ and Weberish this work feels in comparison to Wagner’s mature style, and there’s some splendidly visceral singing from the principals.
Available Formats: 4 CDs, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC
Håkan Hardenberger (flugelhorn, trumpet, piccolo trumpet) London Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Harding
Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new piece, Speranza (Hope), was commissioned by the LSO, with each of its four movements bearing the name of ‘hope’ in a different language (Arabic, German, Gaelic, and Hebrew). Turnage incorporates some unfamiliar sounds in the form of the cimbalom and the duduk (a traditional Armenian instrument, sounding something like a cross between an oboe and a soprano saxophone), which blend beautifully with the virtuosic playing from every section of the orchestra. There are some wonderfully haunting passages, and a quirky, rhythmic third movement that for me is the highlight of the work.
Speaking of fantastic playing, the other piece on the disc is Turnage’s Trumpet Concerto, From the Wreckage, with Håkan Hardenberger as soloist. Hardenberger has to change instruments during the course of the piece, and the ease with which he switches from a beautifully creamy flugelhorn tone to sweet-toned piccolo trumpet is just astonishing – a magnificent performance.
Available Formats: SACD, MP3, FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC
The Brabant Ensemble, Stephen Rice
Cipriano de Rore is mostly known as the father of the madrigal, but he also composed a considerable quantity of motets and Masses that seamlessly adapt this secular style to sacred texts; one disc that managed to slip through the net for me this year is the Brabant Ensemble’s pairing of two of his finest Masses, the Missa ‘Doulce mémoire’ and the Missa a note negre.
Both works are prime examples of the “parody” mass – the use of a pre-existing melody as the basis for the work. The Missa ‘Doulce mémoire’ is based on one of the pop hits of the Sixteenth Century, a chanson by Pierre Regnault dit Sandrin, while the Missa a note negre is derived from a song by de Rore himself. The titular “black notes” are the unusually short note values that this intricate work uses – represented, of course, by black noteheads on the page.
The Brabant Ensemble give this music a delightful lucidity – the complexity of de Rore’s part-writing comes across clearly, and the nuances of mood are expertly judged.
Available Format: CD